Eyes Wide Shut
Back in 2009, during an interview with guitarist Derek Trucks, he told me that if it were up to him, the audience at his shows would just close their eyes and listen. For him, stage theatrics are just a distraction.
Fast forward to last week, when I interviewed producer/engineer Dave Isaac (Bruno Mars, Prince, Eric Clapton, Marcus Miller, and many others) for a story that will be in Audiofanzine later this month. He said he finds it quite helpful when mixing to close his eyes periodically and visualize the soundstage and other aspects of the music.
I tried that the next time I was working on a mix, and it was an astonishing experience. When I closed my eyes, the soundstage became vivid and defined, even a little wider and deeper.
That got me thinking about concerts and the multiple visual components that are often part of the experience. Flashing lights, gaudy costumes, onstage dancers and smoke machines, are standard fare at pop shows. Sometimes the visuals get even more extreme. I remember going to see Blink-182, and drummer Travis Barker played a portion of the show upside down in a cage suspended above the audience.
You could make a case that in a lot of situations, theatrics like that are used because the music isn’t compelling enough on its own. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying stage shows don’t add to a live performance, a lot of times they do. But for me, if the songs are secondary to the spectacle, then it’s theater, not music. You can tell the difference by taking the Derek Trucks test: Close your eyes and just listen.
To bring it back around to mixing, if you haven’t tried the “eyes closed” method that Isaac suggested, give it a shot. (I would say that it’s a real “eye-opening” experience, but in this case, that’s not an appropriate choice of words.) It will give you a new perspective on your mix, and that’s always a good thing.